WASHINGTON — As quickly as Boko Haram caught Washington by hashtag storm, the Nigerian terrorists — and their schoolgirl captives — have seemingly vanished from the radar of priorities, even as the al-Qaeda-linked group’s jihadi brothers-in-arms run roughshod across Iraq.
One senator this week, though, charged that the administration never wanted the frightening growth of the North African terrorist organization to receive much attention in the first place.
A month ago, first lady Michelle Obama posed for a Twitter shot with a white placard bearing the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. The following week, President Obama deployed several dozen U.S. personnel to Chad to help in the hunt for more than 200 girls missing after being abducted from the Government Secondary School in Chibok.
It’s been nearly two months since the April 15 kidnapping, and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo grimly warned Thursday that the search for the girls is rapidly approaching a lost cause.
“It’s inconceivable to get all of them back. If you get all of them back, I will consider it a near-miracle,” Obasanjo told the Premium Times newspaper. “Do you think they will hold all of them together up till now? The logistics for them to do that, holding over 200 girls together, is too much.”
The ball was dropped by President Goodluck Jonathan not responding quickly to the terrorists, he added. “Seventy-two hours was already too late. If the administration had acted quickly, we could have rescued them. The best it seems we can have now is if the government agrees to negotiate, we can get half.”
Washington’s response was similarly slow as momentum didn’t build enough to put pressure on the administration until the hashtag had been gathering steam for a couple of weeks.
There are some chilling foreign policy parallels between the continuing terrorist attacks in Nigeria and the terrorist takeover now grabbing the headlines in Iraq. The activities of both groups underscore that al-Qaeda is not on the run but metastasizing, and the atrocities of both have been met with calls for political solutions rather than a declaration of war on Islamic jihadists.
While the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Boko Haram started independent and has drawn closer to al-Qaeda along with similarly minded groups in the region like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al-Shabaab.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a longtime human-rights advocate who helms the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, recently returned from Nigeria, where he met with one of the girls who escaped her Boko Haram captors.
“She was numb. Kept talking about her friends, what has become of my friends,” Smith told MSNBC today. “Then I met with a father who lost two of his daughters in Chibok and they are Muslim. Most of the targeting of Boko Haram is against Christians. It is a radical, as you know, Islamic terrorist organization and their end game is the overthrow of the Nigerian government and imposition of a very, very extremist Sharia law that would make women not just second- or third-class citizens but far beyond that. They hold women in contempt and of course they kill Christians, male or female simply because they are Christians.”
Smith stressed that “without a doubt, it has gone from very bad to much worse,” and Nigerians as well as the rest of the globe need to be prepared for what’s “going to be a long war.”
“They are growing in their intensity, not unlike what we’re seeing in Iraq right now with this move on Baghdad. They want to move on Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. And they have already, just recently, set off bombs there. And I was in Jos last September where large numbers of churches were fire bombed and people were slaughtered,” the congressman said.
Obama hasn’t mentioned Boko Haram since his May 28 commencement address at West Point, in which he laid out a broader foreign policy agenda.
“No American security operation can eradicate the threat posed by an extremist group like Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped those girls. And that’s why we ought to focus not just on rescuing those girls right away, but also on supporting Nigerian efforts to educate its youth,” Obama said. “It should be one of the hard-earned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where our military became the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development.”
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) this week questioned why the State Department, under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “misled” Congress on the threat posed by Boko Haram.
He cited 2011 evidence on Boko Haram presented to the State Department by the National Counterterrorism Center, followed by a delay in the group’s terror designation until fall 2013.
“Recent evidence suggests Secretary Hillary Clinton and the State Department not only knew of the extent, but also deliberately attempted to obfuscate the issue in order to avoid having to make the designation of Boko Haram as a FTO, including downplaying the State Department’s own Country Reports on Terrorism (CRT),” Vitter wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday.
“Inaccuracies within official documents make it clear that the State Department misled Congress and the American people. Evidence suggests that there was an internal decision by the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism to downplay official, legally required, intelligence data in order to purposefully avoid making the determination,” the senator continued.